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Michigan Gov. Whitmer Gives Democrats' Response To State Of The Union

NOEL KING, HOST:

With the impeachment trial almost behind him, President Trump gave his third State of the Union address last night. He was mostly optimistic. He talked about the low unemployment rate in this country and what he called, quote, "the great American comeback."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our economy is the best it has ever been. Our military is completely rebuilt, with its power being unmatched anywhere in the world, and it's not even close. Our borders are secure. Our families are flourishing. Our values are renewed. Our pride is restored. And for all of these reasons, I say to the people of our great country and to the members of Congress, the state of our union is stronger than ever before.

(CHEERING)

KING: Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan gave the Democratic Party's response. She's on the line now from Lansing. Good morning, Governor.

GRETCHEN WHITMER: Good morning.

KING: President Trump focused on the economy. Unemployment is low; wages are going up. Both those things are true. How do you rebut hard numbers?

WHITMER: Well, I think the fact of the matter is, what's happening in the stock market or the economy writ large doesn't mean a lot if you're working two jobs and still can't make your monthly bills when it comes to transportation and rent and groceries. There are a lot of people in our country that are struggling, who have issues, you know, in the workplace when the president issues a tweet and takes on trade policy and impacts autoworkers to farmers.

And so the stats that he used do not tell the story of what people are really confronting in our states across the country. And that's why I wanted to highlight what Democratic leaders are doing to deliver on affordable health care, to ensure that workers have minimum wage protections and overtime protections. This is how you raise people's standard of living. This is how you insure everyone has a path to a good life in this country.

KING: Let's talk about health care. You mentioned that, and the president talked about that quite a bit last night, including at one point where he delivered a kind of warning. Let me play that for you.

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TRUMP: To those watching at home tonight, I want you to know we will never let socialism destroy American health care.

(CHEERING)

KING: So leaving aside for a moment the fact that the term socialism is very loaded and that we expect to hear it a lot going into 2020, this is a very real concern for many voters, that the Democratic presidential nominee might take away their private sector health plans. What do you say to calm those people down?

WHITMER: Well, this is - part of my message last night was, you can listen to what people say, but watch what they do. That's where the truth is. Every candidate running for president has embraced the Affordable Care Act, and it wants to ensure that people with preexisting conditions have the kind of support that they need and coverage that they need.

This president talked about that, but we know he has filed lawsuit after lawsuit to gut the Affordable Care Act. He - that was - he ran on that. He's done it every day. And now he's pretending as though he cares about health care for the country. And it's baloney. And that's why I talked about the truth matters.

KING: Are you worried about losing swing voters, though, if the nominee is Sanders or Warren and they want these single-payer health care systems?

WHITMER: Well, I am a Democrat who is pragmatic, who's trying to solve problems and stay focused on the dinner-table issues, and there's no question access to affordable, quality health care is front and center for the vast majority of Americans. You know, every Democrat who's running has embraced creating greater coverage for people. And so whether it is, you know, one candidate or another, that is a shared goal, and that is one that is exactly counter to what this president has done in the three years that he's been in office.

KING: At one point, President Trump called for bipartisan legislation to lower prescription drug prices. Now, in the midst of this, the president last night would not shake Speaker Nancy Pelosi's hand. Later on in the evening, she ripped up his speech. As a governor, you need Congress and the president to work together. Do you think they are prepared to, based on what you saw last night?

WHITMER: Well, I think it was outrageous that the president went into the House of Representatives and wouldn't shake the speaker of the House's hand. She's the third most...

KING: Although to be fair, again, she ripped up the speech, right? Like, it did seem like there was a real back-and-forth of disrespect, if I can put it that way.

WHITMER: I can't speak to anyone's motives. But to start off the speech on that note, I thought, showed us that we were going to go into an incredibly divisive speech that - you know, I'm sure it kept the fact-checkers very busy because this is a man who started off by talking about inclusivity, when he's created space for bullies, and he tears down fellow Americans and has caged children who are trying to come to America for a better life.

It was one fiction after another, and I think probably that was the frustration that so many people, so many of us felt. Truth matters, and that's why it's so important to really watch what people do.

KING: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Governor, thank you so much.

WHITMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.